Alhamdulillahi rabbil aalameen. Was salaatu was salaamu ala ashraful mursaleen sayyidina Muhammadi wa ala aali sayyidina Muhammadi wa ashaabihi ajma’een.
All praise is due to Allah, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the entire universe. And the peace and blessings of Allah be upon Muhammad (saw) his family and his companions.
Allah (swt) says in the Holy Quran: “Innama yakhshallah min ibaadihil ulama – Of His slaves, only the people of knowledge truly fear Allah” And He also says: “Say: Are those who know the same as those who do not know? It is only the people of understanding who take heed.” These two ayat give us an indication of the virtue of the people of knowledge, the people who think and who have understanding. And it is possible that it could also include the students of knowledge, those who spend their time learning and studying. So hopefully, insha Allah, all of us here may be included amongst those mentioned in these two verses since they are higher in the sight of Allah than those who remain ignorant and uneducated.
And the Prophet (saw) said: “Talabul ilmi fareedatun ala kulli Muslim – The seeking of knowledge is compulsory on every Muslim.” And also: “Utlubul ilm, minal mahdi ilaa al-lahdi – Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave.” So these ahadith tell us about the importance which Islam attaches to seeking knowledge. But not all knowledge is of the same degree – some things are more important than others. Things such as maths, science, history for example, all these things are useful but there are other subjects which are more important than these – like knowledge about Allah (swt), knowledge about the Sunnah of the Prophet (saw), and knowledge about halal and haram.
There is nothing wrong in studying maths and science, but this should not come at the expense of learning about the Din. Those things might help a person in this world, it might help him to get a good job or to get in to the best universities but it will not help him to get into Jannah. It will not help him when he is placed in his grave or when he is raised up on the day of Judgement. Knowledge of Din, on the other hand, is of benefit in this world and in the next. Which brings me to the topic which I wish to speak about today, which is the importance of learning the Arabic language.
Allah (swt) has given us the Quran, but for what reason? The answer to that is given in the Quran: “Alif Laam Meem. Dhaalikal kitaabu laa raiba feehi huda lil muttaqeen – Alif Laam Meem. This is the book in which there is no doubt. A guidance for those who fear Allah.” So the Quran is there for our guidance, for our instruction. But how can we be guided by it if we do not read it? And to read it we need to know Arabic. This is because of His saying: “Alif Laam Meem. Tilka aayaatul kitaabul mubeen. Innaa anzalnaahu quraanan arabiyyan la’allakum ta’qiloon – Alif Laam Meem. These are the verses of the clear Book. Verily We have sent it down as an Arabic Quran in order that you may understand.” Some Mufassiroon say that what this means is that there are certain ideas and concepts in the Quran which can only be conveyed through the Arabic language and through no other. So in order to properly understand the Quran, we need to know Arabic. Someone might object and say that there are many English translations of the Quran out there and one could simply pick up one of these and read it without having to learn Arabic. This is true to a certain extent and I would encourage everyone to do that. But ultimately all of these translations are flawed and cannot truly convey the beautiful message of the Holy Quran. And I would like to try and prove that insha Allah
For example, this ayah which I have just mentioned: “Dhaalikal kitaabu laa raiba feeh – This is the book in which there is no doubt.” In Arabic, the word meaning “this” is “haadhaa” and the word “dhaalika” which is what is used in the ayah means “that”. So if it were to be translated literally then it would mean: “That is the book.” So why is the word dhaalika used instead of haadhaa? It is allowed in Arabic to refer to something nearby as being far away, as is the case in this ayah, out of respect for that thing. For example, if my father was standing here and I was to introduce him then I could say “Dhaalika abee” instead of “haadhaa abee” in order to show respect towards him. So when Allah (swt) says: “Dhaalikal kitaab” then this is showing to us the honour and respect which is afforded to the Holy Quran. But if one only reads the English translation then he will not be able to pick up on this.
Also, this ayah may be recited in two ways. One could say “dhaalikal kitaab” and then stop there and then continue “laa raiba feehi huda lil muttaqeen” or one could read it as “dhaalikal kitaabu laa raiba feeh” and pause at that point and then continue “Huda lil muttaqeen.” In the first case the translation would be “This is the Book. There is no doubt in it (and it is) a guidance for the muttaqun” and in the second case it would be: “This is the Book in which there is no doubt. (It is) a guidance for the muttaqun.” In both cases the meaning is essentially the same but there is a slight difference between the two. But this cannot be understood if one does not read it in Arabic.
In another ayah of the Quran Allah (swt) says: “Man yashfa’ shafaa’atan hasanatan yakun lahu naseebun minhaa. Wa man yashfa’ shafaa’atan sayyiatun yakun lahu kiflun minhaa – Who ever helps a good cause will have a share of it, and whoever helps an evil cause will have a share of it.” In English it seems as if both these things are the same, but in the Arabic ayah there is a difference between the first part and the second part. The word used for “share” or “portion” in the first part of the ayah is “naseeb” whereas in the second part of the ayah it is “kifl”. These are both translated in English in the same way. So why use two different words if they both mean the same thing? This is because there is a very subtle difference between these two words which has a big impact on the meaning of the ayah.
The word “kifl” is very muhaddad – it is bounded and restricted. It is a share which is equal in all ways, no decrease nor any increase. But the word naseeb which also means a “share” or “portion”, has the added meaning of ziyadah or increase. What this means is that when Allah (swt) says that whoever helps an evil cause will have a kifl of it, then his share here is an exact one – he will not be treated unjustly by having his share increased. But whoever helps a good cause will get his naseeb of it and his share may be increased and multiplied as much as Allah (swt) wills. This is out of his bounty and generosity. And this variation of meaning in the two parts of the ayah is only because of the different words which are used. But when reading the English translation these words both mean the same thing and the difference between them is not apparent.
And the idea expressed in this ayah can be better understood in the light of another ayah of the Holy Quran: “Man jaa’a bil hasanati falahu ‘ashru amthaalihaa. Wa man jaa’a bil sayyi’ati falaa yujzaa illaa mithlahaa wa hum laa yuzlamoon – Whoever brings forth a good deed will have a reward equal to ten times as much but whoever brings forth an evil deed will only be rewarded equally and they will not be wronged.”
Another example – Allah (swt) says: “Wallahu khalaqakum wa maa ta’maloon.” Now the word “maa” used in this ayah can have many interpretations and the meaning of the ayah will differ based on whichever one is taken. It could be a maa masdariyyah in which case the meaning would be: “Allah has created you and your actions.” It could also be taken as a maa mawsooliyyah in which case the meaning would be: “Allah has created you and that which you do.” The two meanings here are very similar but there is a slight difference in the grammatical structure of the sentence.
If the “maa” is regarded as being an istifhaam then the meaning would be: “Allah has created you and what have you done?” And another interpretation is that it is a nafi in which case the meaning would be: “Allah has created you and you have not done (that which you claim).” So here all these various meanings are encompassed in this one small ayah and all of it is based on just one word. But if one reads the English translation then it is only possible for one of these meanings to be conveyed and not all of them. This shows the deficiency of the English language and the problem that lies in relying only on translations.
In another place in the Holy Quran there is an ayah which means: “At length, when there comes the deafening noise.” The Arabic word for this “deafening noise” is saakhah which is the blowing of the trumpet on the day of Judgment. Now when one recites this word in the Holy Quran it must be recited with a six madd. So when one listens to it, it is as if the recitation of the word itself is like a trumpet being blown. In Arabic it is: “Fa idhaa jaa’at al-Saakhah.” So the sound of the word and the way that it is recited complements its meaning. It makes the ayah much more powerful and compelling. And this is something which is impossible to convey in English – there is no way that one can prolong the pronunciation of the phrase “deafening noise.”
These are just some examples which I hope shows the impossibility of truly translating the Quran. The meanings of the Quran in English will always be deficient and inferior to that of the Arabic original. So insha Allah, we should all make an effort to try and learn a little bit of Arabic so that we can read it in the language in which it was revealed and understand it in this language. And if we cannot do so, then we should at least have the intention of doing so, because whoever intends to do a good deed and does not do it, he still gets the reward of performing that deed. And whoever intends to do a good deed and actually carries it out, will have ten times that reward.
Wa aakhiru da’waanaa ‘anil hamdu lillahi rabbil aalameen.